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In a moment that marks one of the historical moments in Country’s history, the coffin of slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba has finally returned to his homeland on Wednesday for an emotionally charged tour and burial which comes more than six decades after his assassination.
A chartered plane will be taking Lumumba’s last remains, a tooth that the ex-colonial power Belgium handed over to his family on Monday — from Brussels to Kinshasa for a nine-day trip around the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The coffin and an accompanying delegation will also be flying to the central province of Sankuru, where the country’s first post-independence leader was born in the village of Onalua in 1925. The remains will also be visiting sites symbolically important to Lumumba’s life and be laid to rest in a mausoleum in the capital Kinshasa on June 30, following three days of national mourning.
“His spirit, which was imprisoned in Belgium, comes back here,” said Onalua Maurice Tasombo Omatuku, a traditional chief and nephew of Lumumba.
Finally able to mourn his uncle but knowing he was assassinated in 1961, Omatuku said he was feeling emotionally torn.
Onalua, which since 2013 has been part of a commune named Lumumbaville in honour of the anti-colonial leader, was on Tuesday preparing to welcome back its favourite son.\
Lumumba earned his place in history as an anti-colonial icon when the DRC proclaimed independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, delivering a fiery speech against settler racism.
He was overthrown that September before separatists from the southern region of Katanga and Belgian mercenaries executed him and two close supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, on January 17, 1961. Lumumba’s body had been dissolved in acid and never recovered.
Decades passed before human remains were discovered in Belgium, after a Belgian police officer who took part in Lumumba’s death boasted about his actions in the media. Belgian authorities seized the tooth from the officer in 2016.
In a solemn ceremony in Brussels on Monday, a casket containing the tooth was placed in a coffin that Belgium handed over to the Congolese authorities in the presence of Lumumba’s family.